In 2010, SunPower launched Oasis, a preconfigured solar power block for utility-scale projects. The modular systems are made up of standardized components designed to streamline project development and, ultimately, cut costs.
Five years later, after three product updates and several gigawatts' worth of solar array deployments, SunPower is bringing the modular concept to the commercial market.
On Monday, SunPower launched Helix, a fully integrated commercial solar solution that combines solar power production and energy management. The platform covers all major application types for solar across roof, carport and ground installations.
“With standardized Helix components, we have eliminated the inefficiencies and added costs of complex system design,” said Tom Werner, president and CEO of SunPower.
At the core of the Helix system are SunPower’s high efficiency solar panels, which the company claims produce 60 percent more energy from the same space compared to conventional panels. But it’s the components surrounding the panels that really make Helix unique, says SunPower.
Take, for instance, the plug-and-play power system -- a first in the U.S. commercial solar market. SunPower eliminated the need for wire-stripping or landing wires on the roof by creating simple and safe connectors that plug in to the inverter, much like an extension cord would plug into a socket. This design reduces inverter installation time from roughly 30 minutes down to 1 minute.
The mounting hardware is also designed to reduce parts and installation time. The ballasted array eliminates the need to use anchors, and the snap-in panel structure eliminates the need to use tools and fumble with nuts and bolts. With this design the Helix single tilt system can support the installation of 20 to 30 panels per hour, which SunPower claims is double the number of panels competitors can install today.
SunPower has also created an integrated cable system to ensure that wires don’t run all over the roof like the back of a home entertainment system. All of the cable management components can support AC, DC and communications cables, simplifying the overall installation.
“We’re not just designing the key components of the systems -- inverters, mounting systems and panels -- but thinking holistically and considering all parts in between those key components,” said Matt Mayberry, senior product manager at SunPower.
“The result is that we’ve created a solution that is fully optimized…where each component interoperates with the other components in an efficient way,” he said.
Helix also comes with SunPower’s EnergyLink energy intelligence software, which quantifies real-time demand-charge savings. “With energy management, we become an energy solutions company, not just a solar company,” said Werner, in an interview. (This a statement Werner has been making for many years.)
Reducing balance-of-system costs has enormous potential to improve overall system economics. While most of the solutions are likely to be incremental, SunPower is taking a more holistic approach.
“Helix is really taking a look at solar from an integrated systems perspective and trying to make everything as simple as possible, eliminating as much hardware as possible, and with the remaining hardware, get multiple uses out of it,” said MJ Shiao, GTM Research director.
SunPower did not release any figures on the cost savings Helix is expected to achieve.
Commercial solar growth has essentially been flat for the past three years, while utility solar and residential solar have both grown steadily. GTM Research does expect the sector to pick back up. By investing so much in commercial installation improvements, SunPower is clearly trying to lead that growth.
“We’ve all seen a lot of empty rooftops and parking lots that could have solar. The total addressable market is potentially quite large,” said Shiao. “But it comes back to system economics. If costs can be reduced across the entire value chain -- financing costs, origination costs, hardware and design and integration costs, and wrapping multiple systems into a giant portfolio to amortize costs -- by chipping away at all of these things, we will hopefully hit a tipping point where commercial solar can reach its potential.”
SunPower CEO Tom Werner will present on Helix and the growing commercial solar sector this week at GreenBiz’s Verge conference in San Jose.